MarketingSherpa Video Archive

Email Marketing: Key takeaways from an award-winning campaign that increased online sales 66%

Daniel Burstein, MECLABS; Paul Ramirez, Eventful; Ryan Blomberg, Eventful

In this MarketingSherpa webinar you'll learn how an e-commerce company implemented a creative and audience-centric approach to increase online ticket sales by 66%.

Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, sat down with Paul Ramirez, Vice President of Operations, and Ryan Blomberg, Director of Engineering, both of Eventful, and discussed what made a data-driven campaign into something great. This campaign earned Eventful an E-commerce Best in Show award in MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014, presented by ExactTarget.

The results of this campaign led to a 44% increase in open rate as well as a 12% lift in site visits for Eventful.

Here is some feedback from the live audience of this webinar:

"I really liked that this email marketing approach was created because of the challenges SEO marketing faces. Many people talk about creating a business that does not simply run off Google, but few provide actionable alternatives that are realistic and effective." — Daniel

"Lots of valuable info packed into just half an hour, with room for answering guest questions." — Eden

"As a designer, I liked the info about the interface design of the email campaigns and the user experience comments." — Laura

Download the slides to this presentation

Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014 in Las Vegas

MarketingSherpa E-commerce Benchmark Survey — Deadline is February 14, 2014

Email Marketing: E-commerce site increases online ticket purchases by 66% with relevant content

Content Marketing: How to serve customers when they shouldn't buy from you

Email Deliverability: Only 39% of marketers maintain an opt-in only subscriber list


Video Transcription

Burstein: Hello and to another MarketingSherpa webinar. Thanks for joining us today. We will be talking about email marketing and e-commerce, how you can improve those and how a fellow marketer has. Now, just to get started, if you haven't attended a MarketingSherpa webinar before, let me warn you; this is not your traditional webinar. You're not going to hear people drone on presenting slides; we are here to answer your questions, to help you solve your problems.

You can ask those questions on #SherpaWebinar on Twitter. You can also share on #SherpaWebinar, what has worked for you? Share with your peers, what has worked for you in email marketing or e-commerce. But I'm not going to be answering those questions. Instead, we bring in some high-performing fellow marketers to see what has worked for them and how what they've done can help you improve your own efforts.

Joining me today is Paul Ramirez, the Vice President of Operations at Eventful. Hello, Paul, thanks for joining us.

Ramirez: Good morning, thanks for having us.

Burstein: And Ryan Blomberg, the Director of Engineering for Eventful. Hi, Ryan.

Blomberg: Hello, good morning.

Burstein: And I say "high-performing marketers." And in this case, as it if ever is, it is no joke. Paul and Ryan and their team at Eventful won Best of Show in the e-commerce division of MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014, presented by ExactTarget, for a truly transformative approach they took to email marketing.

Going to dive into that in just one moment. But first, I also want to let you know, we have lots of related resources here. We have done multiple case studies with Paul and his team at Eventful and we're going to be tweeting those through the #SherpaWebinar, so you can get some more background information to the questions we're asking.

With that, let's just jump right in. Let's get into the challenge. And the challenge, Paul, it had to do with what I think a lot of marketers on this webinar are facing, changes to organic search algorithms.

Ramirez: Yeah, we answered the question that comes up every Thursday or Friday night, "Honey, what should we do this weekend?” And so much of our traffic is driven by really simple Google queries like "Events in San Diego this weekend" or "Bruce Springsteen touring in 2014, San Diego." Where people are trying to figure out if the performers and the things they care about are going to be showing up in their markets.

So, when Google introduced Panda a couple of years ago, it hit us hard. And collectively, we got together to figure out, "How do we pull our resources and our assets together to continue serving subscribers and users on Eventful on a meaningful way and figure out how to recover that?”

And the email team here at Eventful was really instrumental in saying "Hey, there's some things we've been wanting to do with personalization, to serve users better, to drive more traffic, to sell more tickets." And maybe necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe this is the opportunity we've needed to sort of kick that program and those concepts into high gear.

Burstein: From what we're hearing from you, Paul, we've heard from a lot of other marketers, too. Betting the business on organic search has gotten very risky because of changes like this that can happen. I've heard one marketer put it this way. That "One night, I had a shop located right on Main Street. Then an algorithm changed. Now, all of a sudden, I'm on Third Street. I'm getting way less traffic."

If any town ripped up a street and just moved it overnight, it would kill a business. And organic search can kill that as well. And that's why you moved it to email marketing and some other things. And Paul, you even mentioned during our prep, you said you want to hear from other marketers as well, if they've had similar challenges with Google algorithms or organic search, right?

Ramirez: Yeah, for sure. SEO marketing, particularly around Google, is such a black box and it's so mysterious how it works. And there's a constant stream of consultants reaching into us saying "Hey, we've got the silver bullet." We have yet to see one, so it's always good to share best practices experiences, successes and things we could have done differently with peers in the industry. So, we welcome those suggestions.

Burstein: We look to see those suggestions. You can use #SherpaWebinar on Twitter. So, let's begin at the end. Let's look at the results. Essentially, every marketer, email marketer wants to improve their relevance. We hear that all the time "I know my emails should be more relevant. How can I do that?” You guys created this recommendation engine we're going to get into in a moment.

But first, let's understand why everyone should listen to this story. Let's look at the results and also, I want to answer this first question from Cindy, she's a business manager. She says, "What specific, measurable goals should you shoot for as you start a campaign?” So, what were your goals and how did you reach them?

Ramirez: We look at a couple of things. We look at the population that has opted in to receive a particular marketing campaign. Is it growing or is it trickling? And growing a population that you're reaching is a fundamental goal that we have.

We look at traditional metrics like open and click rates as proxies for our subscribers who are receiving content welcoming our content. We look at the flip side of that. We look at unsubscribes and complaints as a prophecy for "Are we sending people the right thing, the wrong thing, too much of a good thing?”

And then, we look, ultimately, at commerce. How many units and how many dollars in transactions are we registering? So, those are the fundamentals and those metrics are well-established by the industry. But fortified and demanded by the partners who we serve.

Burstein: So, let's look into how you address this. We have a question here from Colleen, she's a digital specialist. "What was involved in the campaign search banner video social?” Before you answer that question because I know email is really important to it, we did have a statement here from Eden that I think will make you both feel better. He says "Yes. Exact same problems you guys had last year. Went from position three first page, to second page, to 15th page. Thanks for sharing that about SEO."

Ramirez: Misery loves company, right?

Burstein: Exactly. So, to overcome those SEO problems, we have these questions here. "What elements did you use in the campaign?” And I know you were saying email was so important because it really helped you test your way into this.

Blomberg: I'll cover this one. For us, I was the architect for our email platform. So, it was kind of one of those things where that was my comfort zone. And what we've learned in building that out was that email is a very effective avenue for testing and finding out whether or not a product is viable.

So, you have a lot of advantages in an email situation. You get to push something into an inbox. You have very repeatable statistics on one campaign to the next. You could watch people over time very easily. The number of variables that you have to control for are significantly more simple than you have on a website.

So, for us, it kind of was a natural thing to try to use email as a method to test the idea. So, when we did this, we started there first and that was in February of 2012. And later on, we moved it into our primary newsletter. And then, not too long after that, we started doing the very difficult work of actually getting it live on our website.

Another thing about email that makes it a really good platform is that you have a little bit of time in order to generate the email because you don't have a user waiting on the other end of the line. So, you can take some risk. You can take advantage of the fact that you can spend a little bit of time doing computation that would normally take longer than normal.

Burstein: So, let's get into some of that email; we have some questions here about it. Susan, a director of marketing, wants to know "What audience did the campaign target?” Manhaaz is an e-marketing specialist who wants to know, "Did you implement any sort of list segmentation?” So, I'm going to let you guys answer those questions in just one moment.

But first, I want to show one of the ways you build your lists, which I think is just ingenious. So, what you see on the screen right here, just so you know me, I am a huge Pearl Jam fan and I happen to live in Jacksonville.

So, if I go to, I type in "Jacksonville," I type in "Pearl Jam." Pearl Jam does not have any concerts coming up in Jacksonville. Not too happy with Eddie Vedder about that, but that's the way it is.

Anyways, this pops up and it says, "Would you like to be notified when Pearl Jam comes to Jacksonville?” Yes, I absolutely would. Also, if I click off of the actual pop-up style alert and I see the page, I see some people are demanding Pearl Jam come to Jacksonville. This is some great social proof that the team is using.

I see Belgrade has the most people demanding Pearl Jam come to Jacksonville. I'm going to be darned if Belgrade gets a concert from Pearl Jam before Jacksonville does. So, I start clicking through, I click to "Demand it," demand Pearl Jam come to Jacksonville. Just think about that with your own customers, what potential products might they have? How can you help them demand they get those products?

So, it clicks through. Now, you're starting to capture some segmentation info about me. They've asked for ZIP code, they want my location. And then, I go through again and there's a little bit more segmentation info there. My gender, my year of birth and then, of course, there's that final email capture from me.

So, I want to see how this ties into, again, how you target your audience, how you segment your list. It seems to all start from how you're capturing those email addresses.

Blomberg: That's right. So, once we build up our database by, this is our most powerful user acquisition tool by far. It's very viral, people get very into it. There's a certain competitiveness. Basically, you're attaching to somebody's desire to see a performer that they feel very strongly about, so it's been very successful for us.

The way that we actually segment our users for the recommendation system that we've built is partially based off of the demographic data you see here. But the interesting this is, which may not be super obvious from the actual text fields that they're supplying, is of all of the demographics; gender, birth year and the email address.

The one that's there that's super powerful is the actual Pearl Jam preference. So, the fact that they like that performer actually allows us to answer some very fundamental questions about who they are.

Burstein: Customer preference is more important than demographics sometimes. So, we also have a question about responsive email design, I'm going to get to in just one moment. When we see the actual emails you send, how you're maybe optimizing for mobile.

But we had another question. "How to properly start my marketing strategy if I'm new to social media and I don't have many followers and friends and to be fast." That's from Nikola, he's a student.

So, we see here that you have social sign-on as an option with Facebook. And then, also after someone actually signs up, you have this chance to spread it on Facebook and Twitter and stuff.

So, can you give us a little bit about how you use social sign-on with Facebook and also, just your social strategy behind this?

Blomberg: Sure. One of the things that I mentioned in the last statement was that Pearl Jam was actually a really big deal and is a very powerful thing. What's really interesting about the previous slide is when you signed up with Facebook, one of the permissions that we ask for is to access your "Likes."

What we found is that users typically have hundreds and hundreds of "Likes," many of which are actually their favorite music. So, what we were able to do is if we actually get users to log in with Facebook, we grab their "Likes." Not so much of the performers and other things on our side. And then we use that to power the types of things that we put in front of them.

Burstein: Now, we have a question here from Irina. "Can you please provide some tips around responsive email design?” So, here's an example right here of an actual email. And you get the confirmation email that says, "Please confirm Pearl Jam demand in Jacksonville metro area."

I would imagine mobile is probably fairly important for your demographic, is that true? And how are you working with email delivery to mobile devices?

Ramirez: Mobile, as a share of our overall user engagement, is growing significantly. And because email is also such a significant part of our user engagement, particularly in how we send alerts to notify people that people who they've demanded or people who they've favorited. Or artists that are related to artists that they've favorited are coming to town.

The response that we're seeing from people using mobile devices to those alerts is just going through the roof. So, we did a thorough, systematic audit of all of our email products across a variety of mobile devices. To make sure that design composition, compatibility and call to actions were all consistent with those formats.

And we've seen our fundamental measures improve as a result of doing that work. So, doing the hard work around those audits in that design pays off in spades. And I know RB from a more technical side has some input on that as well.

Blomberg: In terms of responsive design, we, not too long ago, hit that threshold where mobile becomes an impossible to ignore situation. So, what we did to react to that is we are actually in the process of transitioning a lot of our emails to being responsive. Our performer alerts are actually in the middle of the 50/50 split. So, for those of you that are on the conference call, if you were to receive our emails, you may be in one or the other pool, currently.

But we've discovered a few things, just to answer the question. Responsive design, it's an interesting thing because we found something that was a little bit counterintuitive. If you make the content too big, so that it renders well on a mobile device, you actually have worse behavior. What we found is that you have to tighten it up a little bit and still give them some content to digest. But you have to find that balance between big, filling up the phone. And small and hard to read.

Burstein: So, for the design where it's just a big one or two words with a button and just super big and easy to push. You found that doesn't work as well?

Blomberg: Right. So, having a few call to actions and getting a couple of options, but still minimizing the email in some sense is kind of like the happy medium.

Burstein: I see in the lower left, you also add a call to action for, I guess you have an app on the Apple App Store and in the Android Google Play Store?

Blomberg: Yep. That being able to connect people to various ways of accessing the data is also very important. Because people have a pretty strong preference on whether or not they're willing to read email on their phone. Or they're only willing to get apps on their phone. Or they're willing to get personal notifications or not personal notifications.

So, we're trying to get everybody whatever option makes them happiest.

Burstein: Excellent. OK, let's keeping moving through the funnel. So, the interesting thing is marketers are always challenged with "How much information do I get right away?” I want someone to sign for my email list. I need information for segmentation."

So, the Eventful team is capturing some information up front. But then, I also have the option, what they call their artist tracker. I can tell them what other bands I like and then, it gets even deeper, as you can see here. After I keep saying "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs down" to different bands, it keeps getting smarter and giving me other opportunities to pick other bands.

So, we have a question here from Julie, a marketing consultant. "What process did you use to optimize your digital marketing materials and website as the campaign progressed?” So, it seems like you're functioning on two levels. One, you keep getting more information about the user. But, two, it sounds like you're doing a lot of A/B testing as well.

Blomberg: That's right.

Ramirez: In terms of how the recommendation technology was developed and optimized. And then, got integrated into more and more Eventful product. As Ryan said before, it started with email. Because a control environment is virtually perfect. The analytics are virtually perfect.

And, the ability to test and see big numbers is very easy to do. It wasn't until we had developed and distributed the product across email for about six months, that we took on the really hard task of integrating the technology into a Web and a mobile experience.

Most of which is anonymous users. With email, you've sent it to them, they opened it. There's user information and identity information that's being transferred back when they open. And you get to leverage all of that data.

Online, it's very different. You don't know who people are. So, you have to look at the clues they're giving you by the search queries that they used to access you to begin with. Which page did they land on as a proxy for who they are and what they're interested in? And then, using subsequent click data to power the recommendations and the content that you're giving them as they're moving from page one to page two to page three of their session.

Burstein: It's ultimately tied into a recommendation engine that you built. So, I have question here, it's about some of the legal requirements. Can you spend 30 seconds on mass email legal requirements? And so, I know when people are collecting more data about their customers are a little worried about the legal requirements.

But, Ryan, you said if they're collecting the information themselves, they wouldn't have to worry as much.

Blomberg: Yeah. One of the things that we discussed yesterday when we were prepping for this was what exactly are the legal ramifications of having a system that's collecting a lot of data on users? For us, we've been very fortunate in that all of our technologies are in our servers and in our data centers.

So, basically, the way we do it is the worst thing we can do is make a bad suggestion. That in some roundabout way, offends somebody. So, those types of things, we have to be careful of. I can give you guys some examples.

Let's say, for instance, you demanded Hillary Clinton. But I were to give you some sort of an email that references George Bush. That might offend you. So, there's certain types of recommendations that we've put in place to try to prevent some of those situations.

But in terms of legality, we don't transmit this data to a third party. So, our users can feel safe in knowing that we're protecting that for them.

Burstein: OK, I'll just click through some cool data visualizations you have here that show your recommendation engine and how it goes to different types of music and then different artists, specifically. But let's see what it looks like in terms of the actual email that someone receives.

So, this is one of the performer alerts. We had a question "How to create effective subject lines" from Hanoz, he's a digital marketing manager. Bob, a director of marketing wants to know "With the average businessperson receiving more than 100 emails a day, how do you get through all the clutter?"

But I think if you could talk through the subject line in the email, somewhat, it really speaks to the personalization, right?

Blomberg: Yeah. This is probably one of my favorite things about the product that we came up with. What we found over years and years of being an email marketer is that you could come up with a creative line that moves the needle by a half a percent or maybe a percent if you're lucky just by changing out some words and putting an exclamation point or putting a little heart or character or doing some of the other fancy things that people have been doing a lot of lately.

But what we found is the most powerful thing is not just the words you put there, but whether or not the end user recognizes something in them. So, in our system, what we have which is really powerful is we have the performer's name, we have the user's location, and we have the venue that's in their neighborhood that that performer is going to.

So, if you think about the things that you want to see in your inbox, you would see your favorite performer, the venue they're going to be at, and you would recognize that it's not too far from your house. So, that right here is going to completely jump out at you relative to the subject lines you typically see.

Burstein: That's excellent. And while every email marketer on the webinar might not have as rich of data, you can always think to Ryan's point. What information do you have and how can you use that to personalize the email and the subject line, so someone knows it's relevant and they're interested.

We have a question here from Lauren. "How do you balance the need for conversion and sales via heavy discounting and still provide brand awareness, relevant and helpful content to build trust with customers?” Now, as we look through this email, Paul and Ryan, I notice I see it says maybe "Find Tickets."

But I don't see anything about prices. I don't see anything that's a direct sales push. So, how are you guys balancing that?

Ramirez: We are not ourselves a ticketer. We are a promoter of live entertainment events and a marketing partner for all of the ticketers that compete for the dollars that you're spending to go to a show.

So, beneath that "Find Tickets" button is a marketplace of primary and secondary ticketers. Primary ticketers like Ticketmaster who own the rights to sell the first ticket for every seat at a show. And then, the after-market that are consumers who are re-selling a ticket that they bought and now, they can't go to the show for whatever reason.

Or secondary marketers who are bundling tickets with behind the ropes and VIP and parking experience and stuff like that.

So, beneath that "Find Tickets" button is a marketplace of primary and secondary ticketers. It's one of the ways we make money. Where we're constantly adjusting the air and fuel mixture of pricing and availability to best serve our ticketing partners, the promoters who are promoting and the consumers who are using our service.

Burstein: Excellent. So, by doing this, we had a question from Julie in information systems. "Engaging non-active readers, you were able to see a 400 percent re-activation of inactive users." And this is really interesting from what we talked about, Paul.

There's a question from Denae, an accounting manager, "Tips on how to get your boss away from the idea that more is better." And now, what we normally teach marketers, we teach them that everyone is the organization is going to want to pile onto the email list and send more. Because it's not a media spend, right? You don't have to spend more money to send more.

And we usually say, "Hey, don't inundate your audience with more emails." But you have a really different approach where you say, "More emails means more opportunities to engage."

Ramirez: Yeah. When you develop new technology and new applications for technology and new products spin out of it, we always had unexpected results. And for me, the lesson is not more, although more is a really good outcome.

For us, what was better was giving consumers exactly what they were looking for and anticipating what they might be looking for, if we didn't know exactly what they were looking for. And once we got that right, we were able to create new and different kinds of product that gave us opportunity to access our users and our subscribers more frequently because we knew more about them.

Burstein: Yeah, so it's a great approach. Not the traditional that many companies have where it's just another batch and blast send. But it's more where you're selling more relevant emails. And then, really, creating more inventory for the messages that you want to send.

Ramirez: It's a great way to put it, exactly.

Burstein: That's a brilliant idea that we don't normally hear talked about. So, in just one moment, we're going to answer this question. "What does a puppy and George Clooney have in common?” And I also want you guys to answer this question from Vanessa. "Were you delivering any email content dynamically?”

But first, I want to give the audience a chance to teach us as well. Every webinar, we bring on marketers who are teaching the audience. We want to hear from you. To start off the new year, we're partnering with Magento to conduct a study of e-commerce for the 2014 MarketingSherpa E-commerce Benchmark Report study.

We're excited to share the discoveries we have from this Benchmark report with you. But first, we need to hear from you. We need your feedback. We need your insights on what is working in e-commerce. So, if you can take this quick survey, by participating, you'll either be entered to win an Email Summit ticket for two nights, plus a stay at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas, where we'll be having Email Summit. Or you can choose an iPad Air.

And for participating in the survey, you'll also get a copy of it when it's published. So, you can just visit to get started. And again, Paul Ramirez is going to be speaking at Email Summit in one of our Best in Show sessions.

So, I look forward to hearing you speak there, Paul. Again, congratulations on the Best in Show win. It is fantastic, Paul.

Ramirez: Thank you. The recognition that we've gotten from Sherpa means a lot to us. We look at you guys as the gold standard for marketing research and intelligence and to get the recognition from an organization that we respect so much has just meant a whole lot to the company.

Burstein: Well, thank you very much, Paul. We appreciate that. So, let's get into this. What do a puppy and George Clooney have in common? So, the Eventful team went beyond just concerts to different types of alerts.

For example, George Clooney might have something to do with movies. Puppies might have to do with a dog show. They got more site visits. We're going to look at some of their newsletters here.

And you can see here is an example where it's about the performer. You can also say how you're not interested in that performer. And then here is an example of a non-performer that lets you expand into, this was a San Diego wine event.

So, if you can get into this question from Vanessa. "Were you delivering any email content dynamically? And if so, how you were doing it?”

Blomberg: I'll take that one. One of the most interesting things about our email platform is we built it pretty much from the beginning with the sole purpose of being able to make a custom email per user. So, the recommendation that we built, as well as the technology that powers all of our email system, it is one email, one user.

The best way to look at it is our emails are, in essence, a webpage. And that webpage is fully personalized to you. So, we don't just segment. We don't send an email to all of the females in San Diego with this exact same content. We actually send an email to that specific email address with that email address is most relevant content.

Burstein: And you can see here, also, another chance for the audience to tell who they liked. And another chance for them to see who is in demand. Overall, this increased clickthrough rate for you, this increased personalization.

We have just one minute left. I wonder if you can each tell me your top takeaways for the audience of how they can improve their own email marketing, their own overall marketing.

Ramirez: You know, the thing that has paid off for us as we've developed this technology is to go through the effort to try and understand what your customers care about, what their passions are. Provide them easy to use tools in a safe environment to provide that information.

And ultimately, honor their trust by giving back to them, products that leverage that information and that enrich their experience with your product and your service.

Blomberg: For me, one of my biggest takeaways from our entire experience over the last couple of years is that it's amazing what you can infer about your users based on data that you didn't even think you could correlate off of. So, for instance, the fact that you like Pearl Jam as an example. Initially, you may think of that as a marketer as, "We've got one piece of data on this person. They like Pearl Jam."

But as all of us know, Pearl Jam is not the only CD that you own or the only MP3 you own or whatever you use to consume your music. You always will have much more than that. And for us, it was kind of the insight of realizing that that one piece of data actually includes a whole set of other things that with high likelihood, we can assume that you like.

Burstein: I love it. What I'm hearing is, "Learn about what your customer wants, deliver it to them and really to learn about what your customer wants, you have to find the right piece of data." And as a big bonus, I've finally gotten to work Pearl Jam into a MarketingSherpa webinar.

So, thank you so much, Paul and Ryan for being with us today. Thank you for taking your time.

Blomberg: Thank you very much.

Ramirez: Thank you.

Burstein: And thank you all for watching this MarketingSherpa webinar. We will put the replay up on in about a week. So, make sure to share with your friends and colleagues if you think it can help them as well. Thank you.